Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Musharaf factor in Azad Kashmir elections.

Musharaf factor in Azad Kashmir elections.
Dr Shabir Choudhry 13 July 2006

Now that dust of elections is settling down and a victor is announced people are pondering as to what has happened. Outcome of the elections is not what was predicted by the analysts and by some Pakistani agencies about a week to ten days before the elections.

While discussing the outcome of the elections one Pakistani political commentator said, 'Musharaf Sahib has won the elections by a single stroke.' One person among this small gathering did not understand this and innocently asked, 'How could he win if he was not contesting the elections.'

It is true that he was not contesting these elections, yet he played a key role in these elections. Good thing about a President with a commando training is that he does not hesitate when he feels something needs to be done. He is 'brave', so he claims, and commando training and thinking has equipped him with skills to produce surprises which prove to be lethal for his opponents.

History of Azad Kasdhmir is witness to this fact that whoever has ruled Pakistan has also appointed a puppet of his/her choice in Azad Kashmir that he could look after interests of Pakistan. In fact the very first President of Azad Kashmir was installed as a president after abolishing 'Provisional Government' of Azad Kashmir on 24th October 1947; and according to first President's own admission late at night on 23 rd October he was told by Commissioner for Rawalpindi and others that he would be President from tomorrow.

In other words when he went to bed on the night of 23rd October he didn't know that political masters in Pakistan have decided to appoint him as a President of Azad Kashmir. One can draw comparisons with this fact that Sardar Anwar Khan, present President of Azad Kashmir, as a serving Major General of Pakistan army went to bed at night with his diary full of military related business.

Because of advancement in communication, this time unlike Sardar Ibrahim Khan, he was not woken up at midnight to be told about new task at hand. He was told he has to cancel military related appointments as political masters of Pakistan have found him a new 'job' as a President of Azad Kashmir - what a promotion.

Azad Kashmir Assembly, which people like to call a sovereign assembly of brave people of Azad Kashmir, was told to accept this appointment, and like good boys they all signed on the dotted line. They had no choice but to follow this dictation otherwise they would have lost all the ‘investment’ they had made in the elections.

It is established fact that Pakistani governments meddle with the affairs of Azad Kashmir, and outcome of the 'elections' is always according to desires of Islamabad. However there is a big difference between the present interference and the previous ones. In the past Pakistani governments did everything from behind the scenes. This time a message was clear for all those who had any interest in Azad Kashmir and with affairs of the State as a whole.

This message was clear and loud- keep hands off- as we have decided to do things our way not only in Azad Kashmir but also with the Kashmir dispute as well. The noises about the second part of the message were heard outside the boundaries of Azad Kashmir.

For the first time President of ruling party of Pakistan, who is known as a 'king maker' with tremendous influence presented party tickets to candidates of ruling party in Azad Kashmir. This was a clear signal to all concerned that we are behind Muslim Conference. And to add silver lining to this, the President of Pakistan who is also a Pakistan Army Chief, met President of Muslim Conference, Sardar Attique Khan and his father, Sardar Qayyum Khan who have ‘served’ Pakistan for many decades.

This was another clear message that Pakistan Army Chief with his due role of President, and with all his power and influence is behind this party which has looked after Pakistani interests in this area since 1947. This meeting with photographs was widely broadcasted to get the maximum benefit. Out of many contestants why President Musharaf chose to ‘honour’ leaders of Muslim Conference with a meeting, and that again in the last week of election campaign.

According to reports of Pakistani agencies Muslim Conference, which was badly divided because of granting of party tickets and other conflicts, would only get around twelve seats. Earlier ‘No objection Certificate’ was obtained for Sardar Attique Sahib, and according to reliable sources only 25 cror rupees were given to those who decide future of Azad Kashmir government.

But when they realized that their chosen party, despite everything will not get the required number of seats, a commando type strategy was worked out which included meetings with General Musharaf, Chief Minister of Punjab and GCO Muree who always had a big say in the affairs of Azad Kashmir. There were other meetings with top Pakistani leaders and officials; and those who are who are known as ‘maq-dader al-qay’ (members of military and civil establishment).

So a few days before the elections it was apparent that Muslim Conference will get the lead, not because they were popular, in fact they were a divided house with candidates contesting each other, but because it was decided in Islamabad.

Apart from these meetings and other forms of interferences and mastery of rigging, President Musharaf had to declare openly that those who like me or support my programme should support those people who are my friends. As there was no elections were taking place in Pakistan at that time, so this was a clear message that we are behind Muslim Conference and people should this party.

Earlier nomination papers of those candidates who are loyal to their own motherland were rejected because they refused to sign a totally undemocratic and anti liberation clause that we will be loyal to Pakistan instead of being loyal to Kashmir. In our beloved ‘Azad Kashmir’ only those people are allowed to contest elections or take up government jobs who declare their loyalty to Pakistan. With all these actions a stage was ready for the Muslim Conference to ‘demonstrate’ that they are the main party with a ‘mandate’.

When people say that Musharaf factor has done the trick, does it mean that he is popular in Azad Kashmir? Answer is no. We people of Jammu and Kashmir might be oppressed and divided, but we are not fools. We know that General Sahib, since becoming Army Chief has called all the shots and had his way despite opposition from Pakistani parties and others. Why we ‘enslaved’ Kashmiris invite his wrath and that of Pakistani statecraft by disobeying his whims, after all people don’t want to be at the wrong end of the stick all the time.

Now that elections in Azad Kashmir are over and Pakistan and its agencies have once again demonstrated that we have a final say in matters related to Kashmir, a big question is what impact this will have on the future of the peace process? Is it a set back for all those who one way or the other support the peace process? As Muslim Conference in the past has opposed closer ties with India, and have supported militancy, and with militancy on rise again, are we back to square one or at least have come down a few rungs on the ladder?

What are the Kashmiri nationalists going to do? Are they going to call it a day and adopt a policy if ‘you can’t win them join them’ to have a share in the pie? Or are they going to fight their corner to advance pro Kashmir policies and continue to work for unification and complete independence of the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

Writer is Chairman Diplomatic Committee of JKLF, Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs and author of many books on Kashmir. He could be reached at:

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